I believe that the most beautiful and spiritual visual experience I have had is observing the changes of the color of leaves in the fall, which we are still experiencing in many parts of the country. After a summer of building food for the tree so that it can endure the cold months, the leaves seem to say, “I am going to show you my best by producing unimaginable colors.” To say the least, the colors are awesome and yet, they are dying, only to be gathered up and buried. Yet, the tree remains to give birth to new leaves in the spring and as one of my friends would say, “What a joy.”
Other leaves that bring healing to the body are leafy greens. These leaves are not only beautiful but also produce substances that are healing for the body. Greens such as spinach, collards, kale, beet greens, Swiss chard and dandelion contain substances such as beta carotene, iron, lutein and riboflavin, which prevent healthy cells from turning cancerous. These greens should be eaten to ensure a balanced diet.
The leaf that I will introduce to you today is a healing leaf that was introduced to me in a short story entitled “The Leaf” by William Sidney Porter, affectionately known as O’Henry, who was born in Greensboro, N.C., Sept. 11,1862, and died rather young in New York, June 5,1910. He is one of my favorite short story writers.
The leaf in this story has to do with the healing of the body when all odds are against it and how the physician may not always have the last word.
In old Greenwich Village, on the Lower East Side of New York, there was a small house occupied by two sisters on the upper floor and an elderly artist in the basement. They were friendly and cared for one another. One winter, one of the sisters became ill with pneumonia and was given a doomsday decision that she would not survive through the winter by the physician who made a house call. The bed on which she lay faced a wall where a vine with many leaves grew. She related to her sister that she was going to die when the last leaf had fallen. The elderly artist often engaged in conversation with her and knew of her decision concerning her fate. When there was only one leaf left on the vine, a winter storm arose and the ill patient knew that the leaf would be gone by morning. When she awoke and saw the leaf, she began to rally and her condition improved. The story continues to relate that the elderly artist was found dead two days later because of the pneumonia he had contracted while painting a leaf on the wall. He had managed to prolong the life of one he admired.
I often tell my medical students that no matter how much a patient is failing, they must always be ready to paint a leaf of hope in the mind of the patient and the family. Remember proverbs 16:24: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones,” and proverbs 17:22: “A merry heart doeth good, like medicine.”